Nicknamed the crisis manager of the Congress, union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad will this year contest from his home state, Jammu and Kashmir, for the first time. In a free-wheeling interaction with Hindustan Times, Azad says that he is confident that 2014 would be a repeat of 2009, and that there would be a Congressled government at the Centre by mid-May. Excerpts follow.
How does it feel to contest from your home state? This is your maiden bid for the Lok Sabha from J&K.
I had contested the assembly elections from here in 2006 and 2008. Irrespective of their religion, people voted for me on both the occasions. I have always contested the national elections from other places and campaigned for my party across the country in the Lok Sabha elections. It’s a different experience asking for votes for yourself.
What does your entering the election mean for the NC-Cong coalition in state?
We are going to win all the six Lok Sabha seats in the state. There is no question of any seat going to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu. I have attended five public meeting in even the Jammu constituency and I can say with authority that the Congress is winning, no matter who is pushed into campaigning.
There were reports that you were reluctant to contest and were brought in to limit the ‘Modi wave’ in Jammu.
There is no ‘Modi wave’. It has been created deliberately. Narendra Modi forced his party to declare him as the prime ministerial candidate six to seven months before the elections. He was so eager to become the PM that he has been campaigning ever since. Going by what I have seen on the field, there is going to be a repeat of 2009. A UPA government will be formed in the country.
So, like other Congress leaders, you were not reluctant to contest the elections?
I had to decide. I was part of the national campaign committee. But people from the state wanted me to contest from here as they wanted a good performance not only in the Lok Sabha elections, but also in the assembly elections in November. The two leaders who did not contest, P Chidambaram and Manish Tewari, had valid reasons. Tewari had been unwell for a year now. He has been in and out of hospital. He would have won hands down. As far Mr Chidambaram is concerned, he had told me about a year ago that he wanted to be out of the electoral process and it was time for the younger generation to take charge. This was even before Narendra Modi had joined the national fray.